FRIDAY 26 AUGUST CHRISTCHURCH (D)
Arrive Christchurch, check into the hotel and relax prior to meeting up this evening for our welcome dinner.
SATURDAY 27 AUGUST TRANZALPINE – GREYMOUTH – HOKITIKA (B, D)
This morning we are transferred to Christchurch Railway Station to embark on our rail journey. Experience the South Island’s striking natural landscape by taking a train between Christchurch and Greymouth. Along this journey you’ll see epic vistas, travel the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River, traverse the Southern Alps, and see miles of native beech forest. The TranzAlpine is one of the world’s great train journeys covering 223 kilometres one-way, taking just under 5 hours. You’ll traverse the majestic Canterbury Plains, to the backdrop of the mighty Southern Alps – the journey of a lifetime.
Our coach will meet us on arrival into Greymouth, considered the heart of the West Coast. We are taken on a short tour of Greymouth and out to the Brunner Mine Memorial Site. When coal ruled, this was New Zealand’s most important centre of industry. This historical site is also a memorial to the miners and their families of the West Coast following New Zealand’s worst mining disaster of 1896 where 65 people lost their lives.
After our visit to the Brunner Mine site we head to the Monteith’s Brewing Company for a tour – this brewery has been family owned since 1868 and they are still brewing with the same traditions they used back then.
Continuing on to Hokitika, our accommodation is located right on the doorstep to the Tasman Sea with uninterrupted views of the beach.
SUNDAY 28 AUGUST HOKITIKA – FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER (B, D)
This morning we check out and travel by coach to Shantytown Heritage Park – a faithful recreation of an 1880’s gold mining settlement, it provides an interesting insight into the lives of the old prospectors. Shantytown is one of New Zealand’s premier cultural and heritage attractions. Made up of over 30 historic buildings it is a faithfully recreated 19th century pioneer town, inspired by the West Coast gold rushes of the 1860s. Highlights include riding the steam train, gold panning, the Beehive store with its range of traditional confectionery and the opportunity to have an old-time photo portrait taken as a memento of your visit.
We then continue south to Franz Josef one of our most famous glaciers, which is now retreating at an alarming rate. We drive to the carpark near Franz Josef and take a short walk to the observation point. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure, some may opt to do a scenic helicopter flight, or the like. Or just relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings!
We overnight in Franz Josef.
MONDAY 29 AUGUST FOX GLACIER – WANAKA (B, D)
Departing Franz Josef, we continue south to Fox Glacier today. Named after Sir William Fox, New Zealand’s Prime Minister from 1869 to 1872, Fox Glacier describes both the glacier and the nearby village. Like its twin, Franz Josef, the glacier descends from the Southern Alps down into temperate rainforest just 300 metres above sea level.
Continuing on, our drive crosses over the Main Divide at the Haast Pass. This is one of New Zealand’s most unpopulated regions and a landscape that is worth experiencing, not just seeing. The road first skirts the coast where fur seals often doze amongst the spectacular sea stacks and driftwood. Look for the rare and beautiful Fiordland Crested Penguins fighting the crashing waves to land on the beach. The lookout at Knights Point has wonderful views of the rugged coastline.
Next you come to the Gates of Haast, a gorge full of huge boulders and precipitous rock walls that caused major problems during the construction of the road in 1960 – up until then the Great Divide proved insurmountable to all except the Maori who used the trail for gathering greenstone. Just before the summit of the Pass itself you can stretch your legs and wander down to Fantail Falls. Heading down the eastern side there is a 20-minute easy walk to the Blue Pools. The path takes you through silver beech forest and over a swing bridge to a viewing platform from which trout can sometimes be seen in the clear and incredibly blue pools. Makarora is where the West Coast meets Central Otago at the southern end of the Alps. It has retained an element of pioneering spirit in its unhurried approach to life.
We arrive into Wanaka early afternoon and check-in to our accommodation at Edgewater Resort. We are spoilt with the best views in town at the Edgewater Resort nestled on the lakes edge – here you can enjoy freshly baked scones or pre-dinner drinks on the lawn on the lake’s edge. The rest of the day is free to relax and enjoy this tranquil lakeside town before we enjoy dinner at a fabulous local restaurant.
TUESDAY 30 AUGUST WANAKA – TE ANAU (B,D)
After breakfast, we join our coach as we travel to Te Anau. It is hard to believe that this sleepy region was the most populous in New Zealand during the chaotic gold boom years of the late 19th century.
We travel via Cromwell – one of the warmest places in the South Island (in the summer that is), making it ideal for growing fruit trees and the region is fast becoming renowned for fine Pinot Noir wines. During our stop, we check out the Cromwell Heritage Precinct – when the Clyde dam was completed in 1990, Cromwell’s main street disappeared under Lake Dunstan. Some of the historic buildings dating back to the gold rush of the 1860’s were saved or lovingly rebuilt on higher ground, creating the Cromwell Heritage Precinct. Step back in time to the gold rush and explore heritage buildings, many with artisan businesses in them, located on the shore of beautiful Lake Dunstan.
This afternoon we continue on with a leisurely drive through to Te Anau, the gateway to the Fiordland National Park – it is 1,250,000 uninhabited hectares of stunning wilderness. Fiordland has a primeval rugged landscape, largely untouched by humans apart from incursions by tourists at Milford and Doubtful Sounds and a few fishermen in other fiords. It was declared a World Heritage Area on account of the outstanding geological features and exceptional beauty, the jewel in the crown being Mitre Peak in Milford Sound.
Before dinner at a lovely local restaurant we see the Ata Whenua – Shadowland movie at the Fiordland Cinema. A 30-minute film show casing the unique beauty and remote wilderness of Fiordland from the air to the screen for all to enjoy!
Our accommodation for the next two nights is at Distinction Luxmore Hotel.
WEDNESDAY 31 AUGUST TE ANAU – MILFORD SOUND (B, L,D)
This morning we drive into Milford Sound which is quite simply unparalleled to anything in this world. The road to Milford is one of the world’s finest alpine drives and is an easy drive from Te Anau. The road follows the Eglinton and Hollyford valleys, then through the Homer Tunnel where you will meet Mitre Peak, towering from the glassy waters of Milford Sound.
Breath-taking in any weather, the fiord’s cliffs rise vertically from the dark waters, mountain peaks scrape the sky and waterfalls cascade downwards from as high as 1,000 metres. When it rains in Milford Sound, and it often does, those waterfalls multiply with magnificent effect. Wet or fine Milford is incredibly grand.
We join our cruise at 1pm and relax as we soak in the close-up views of awe-inspiring scenery. These cruises are often accompanied by playful dolphins and seals basking on rocks are a common sight. Lunch is included.
Late afternoon we return to our hotel in Te Anau where we have some time to freshen up before dinner.
THURSDAY 01 SEPTEMBER TE ANAU – QUEENSTOWN (B, D)
Today we farewell the stunning World Heritage area of Fiordland and drive back the way we came with a coffee and ‘cheese roll’ stop (own account) at Five Rivers, enroute to Arrowtown.
The beautiful, tree-lined town of Arrowtown is another former gold mining settlement. Two years after the first European settlers established high country farms in the Wakatipu area, gold was discovered in the Arrow River and news soon spread. Within weeks 1,500 people arrived as the news of gold spread and people in search of the alluvial treasure arrived in droves. At the height of the gold rush, Arrowtown’s population grew to over 7,000. In 1865 many of the miners started to leave for other gold-mining areas and the local government invited Chinese miners to the area. Most worked in the Shotover and Arrow Gorges, although wherever Chinese stores opened communities began to develop. Wander amongst the historic cottages, visit the reconstructed Chinese Settlement – the main shopping street is a shopper’s particular delight!
We return south by taking the road along the base of the hill, via Coronet and Arthur’s Point. If time and conditions permit, we drive up the Coronet Ski-field Access Road for fabulous views of the Wakatipu Basin and Shotover River.
Perhaps a snowball fight to really embrace the season!
Arrival time in Queenstown is mid-afternoon. Queenstown is the Adventure Capital of the World! It lies on Lake Wakatipu where you can observe the strange seiches phenomenon – this is an unusual rhythmic rise and fall of 12cm in its water level every five minutes due to variations in atmospheric pressure. A Maori myth says it is the beating of a monster’s heart lying in the depths of Lake Wakatipu!
Tonight, we enjoy our final dinner together.
FRIDAY 02 SEPTEMBER QUEENSTOWN – HOME (B)
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Farewell your newfound friends as you travel to Queenstown Airport to begin the journey home.